The opportunity to write about Camerata Musica is a chance to think about our organization’s development — where we came from, where we are and where we’re going.
Our first concert, in September 1969, was a piano recital in the Battelle Auditorium, which still serves as our home. At the time, donations from 37 people provided support for the four-concert season. That number grew in succeeding years, but long-time supporters may recall that the fall announcement letter occasionally listed one concert simply as TBD, dependent on the funds raised. Early programs depended on local musicians and faculty from Northwest colleges, and the norm was for soloists and duos. It would be almost 10 years before a quintet performed. Eventually, Camerata grew to offer a full season of eight concerts: seven with professional musicians and one with local students.
Early on, Camerata developed a funding model that continues to this day. We rely primarily on our patrons, i.e., those who contribute a specified minimum donation each year, for which they receive a listing in our program and a card that entitles them to early seating at concerts. After that, seating is provided on a first-come, first-seated basis to the general public. This odd, non-ticket sales business model has allowed us to balance recognition of our donors with our commitment to making chamber music widely available, including to those who are unable to or choose not to contribute.
The early 1990s saw the creation of the Tri-Cities Corporate Council for the Arts to encourage businesses to support the arts. Grants from TCCCA allowed us to pay for advertising, and as more people came to concerts and added to our financial base, we were able to hire larger groups with better and more diverse performers. The increase in quality, in turn, attracted additional patron contributions. TCCCA did not survive, but its effect remained. Several large donations have since enabled us to establish a reserve fund. Knowing in advance that we will be able to pay the bills for the following concert season has allowed us to further expand the pool of artists we draw from. Our patrons continue to respond with increasingly generous support and they remain our bread-and-butter source of funding.
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The current season shows how much has changed. In addition to our local sources, we now regularly deal with agents who send us information about performers from all over the world. Thirty musicians will be performing in seven concerts. Mid-Columbia native Stephen Beus now lives in Oklahoma, while the Cosi Quartet is based in Seattle. Hamilton Cheifetz and Janet Guggenheim came from Portland, The Rose Ensemble from Minnesota, Trio Tremonti and The Borealis Wind Quintet hail from the East Coast. Simphonie has members from both Seattle and Germany. It’s a far cry from the early days.
While raising the bar with performers of this caliber, we haven’t forgotten our local roots. Every May, Camerata sponsors a Young Artists concert featuring local students, chosen from a pool nominated by their teachers. Some may be aiming for careers as professionals, while others are simply enriching their lives with music. Regardless, we want to encourage them by recognizing their dedication. It’s also a great concert for the audience.
Looking forward, we hope to be able to sustain this level of quality. Our selection committee will continue to look for outstanding artists, at affordable prices, who will help us retain our current audience as well as attract new concert-goers. The support from our patrons has been fantastic; we hope that it continues and grows.
We recognize that chamber music isn’t to everyone’s taste but for aficionados of the genre, Camerata Musica has created a series that consistently brings world-class performers to the Tri- Cities. That’s progress.